Man convicted in baby's death released from prison

6:52 PM, Aug 19, 2011   |    comments
Michael Hansen greets his mother Debra Meyer with a hug after Hansen was released from the Douglas County Jail in Alexandria, Minn. Thursday, Aug. 18, 2011. Hansen has been incarcerated for six years after being convicted of killing his daughter. With help from the Innocence Project, Hansen was granted a new trial and was released on bail. (MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson)
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ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - A Minnesota man convicted of killing his infant daughter was released on bail Thursday after he was granted a new trial based on new evidence presented by the Innocence Project of Minnesota.

Michael Hansen was released from the Douglas County Jail in Alexandria. The 34-year-old man has been incarcerated there for six years of a 14-year sentence, after being convicted in May 2004 of second-degree murder in Avryonna Hansen's death.

His case came to the attention of the Innocence Project, a group that works on behalf of people it believes have been wrongly convicted. Innocence Project attorneys argue that Hansen was found guilty because of a flawed medical examiner's report. Now they've won him a new trial that's scheduled to start in late September.

"I just want to be with my family. I just want to sit by the lake and have one of my mom's home cooked dinners. That's what I look forward to," Hansen said as he walked out of jail to the cheers of a small group of relatives. Wearing a white t-shirt and baggy jeans, he glanced up at the sky and then walked over to hug his mother, Debra Meyer.

"Well, it's been hard, really hard for the whole family," she said, adding that she never doubted her son's innocence. "But six years of separation has taken its toll. They all believe in Michael. They know he's innocent, and just waiting, waiting, and waiting for that day when he's going to be out and with us."

Hansen is out of prison, but he still faces a new trial for the death of his infant daughter, Avryonna. At the original trial, a jury heard from Ramsey County medical examiner Michael McGee, who said the three-month-old baby suffered a skull fracture before she died. McGee called the death a homicide. The jury agreed, and Hanson was sentenced to 14 years in prison.

But attorneys with the Innocence Project say the medical examiner was wrong. They agreed to look into the case after Hansen sent them a letter asking for help.

Innocence Project attorney Bridget Sabo asked five doctors to review the autopsy report, including two medical examiners, an emergency medicine physician, a forensic pathologist, and an expert in child abuse. Sabo says the doctors all found it's more likely that the baby accidentally suffocated to death as she slept next to her father and three-year-old sister.

"We certainly hope that the jury will listen very closely to the medical evidence. This case has always been I think dependent on the medical evidence," she said. "I think it flowed from an erroneous conclusion by the original medical examiner. There's never been any direct evidence that Mr. Hansen hurt his daughter in any way. There still is no direct evidence that he hurt his daughter."

Douglas County Attorney Chad Larson and the Ramsey County Medical Examiner declined to comment on the case.

Hansen says he looks forward to the opportunity to clear his name. He has two other daughters and says being away from them has been difficult.

"I'd just like everything to come to light and for my -- just for my innocence to be shown, you know?" he said. "I just want to be with my children, I miss them more than anything in the world, they're everything to me. They're everything positive that I am today is because of them, I just, I miss them and my family a lot."

"The thing that matters the most to Mike is clearing his name," Sabo said. "He would have never hurt his infant daughter, and the idea that he might... have damaged his relationship with his other two daughters just breaks his heart."

The new trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 26.

By Madeleine Baran, MPR News

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